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Federal government missing in fracking wastewater debate

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Communities in Atlantic Canada are currently dealing with the fallout of fracking projects that occurred prior to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia's moratoriums. There are two New Brunswick communities, Saint John and Dieppe, that are exploring plans to treat fracking wastewater in their municipal wastewater treatment plants and to discharge the waste in local rivers connected to the Bay of Fundy. This summer, Atlantic Industrial Services (AIS) pitched a proposal that would see the town of Dieppe treat 30 million litres of "treated" fracking wastewater into its sewer system. Dieppe Mayor Yvon Lapierre is waiting for the results of an environmental impact assessment being conducted by the New Brunswick Department of Environment and Local Government. Concerned citizen Daniel Goudreau told CBC, "It will then be dumped in a municipal water system that serves Dieppe, Moncton and Riverview. From the sewer it will go on to the Petitcodiac River and from there up and down the Bay of Fundy and God knows what it's going to do to the environment at that point."

At the end of November, the CBC reported that Saint John Mayor Mel K. Norton spoke with New Brunswick Energy Minister Donald Arseneault about the possibility of disposing fracking wastewater from AIS through the Saint John wastewater system. Last week, the Council of Canadians sent a  letter to the Saint John mayor to express our concerns, "We do not wish for Saint John or other Bay of Fundy coastal communities to become a testing ground for the long-term implications of what might be considered treated fracking waste."

AIS has a facility in Debert, Nova Scotia and has been shopping around the Atlantic for communities willing to accept, treat and discharge the waste. Two communities in Nova Scotia have already said no to this risky project, with Amherst being the most recent. Amherst residents strongly opposed the proposal. Residents held rallies and over 200 residents attended a meeting at Amherst fire hall to express their concerns and opposition before putting a stop to the deal. We wrote a letter to Amherst Mayor to congratulating his Council on its decision to scrap the plan and said, "Given the lack of understanding of the impacts of fracking chemicals, and a desire we are certain you share to protect water sources, public health and the surrounding ecosystem, we congratulate you on hearing the concerns raised by people in your community and ultimately on your decision in this matter, which could have set a dangerous precedent for communities across the country and generations to come."

Last year, Colchester County rejected a similar proposal from AIS after concerned citizens and organizations wrote submissions and attended public hearings. U.S. organizations Food and Water Watch and Sierra Club Maine also sent an open letter to the Sewer Use Appeals Committee expressing their concerns on how the project would impact the Bay of Fundy. In its decision, the County Appeals Committee wrote declared, "it is not the role of the Municipality to allow the Bay of Fundy to be a petri dish for fracking wastewater."

While municipalities and the provinces have been the decision-makers for these plans, the federal government also has jurisdiction in this matter as releasing contaminants to aquatic environments is regulated by the Fisheries Act. Fisheries and Oceans Minister Gail Shea and Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq have a responsibility to investigate and approve these proposals but have been largely missing from this debate.

While AIS has completed some testing on the fracking wastewater at its Debert facility, fracking fluid is a complex mixture of chemicals of poorly understood and variable composition. Governments and the scientific community do not currently have the analytical capabilities to detect all the chemical components, and do not have a solid scientific understanding of the fate and toxicity of many of them. The Council of Canadian Academies' recent report, Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction in Canada, clearly outlined the lack of information on many key issues including the safety of fracking chemicals.

We told Amherst and Saint John's mayors, "Reactive components of fracking fluid will be transformed to other chemical products upon contact with water and/or sediments. Further, organisms can biotransform some chemicals in their guts or livers. Depending on the chemical, transformation can either decrease or increase their bioavailability and toxicity."

We added, "Research by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Endocrine Disruption Exchange Inc. has demonstrated that fracking fluids contain toxic substances known to cause serious health impacts such as cancer and organ damage, and have negative impacts on neurological, reproductive and endocrine systems. Under the Chemicals Management Plan (CMP), Environment Canada reviewed chemicals used in the fracking process in both Quebec and the U.S. Approximately half of the fracking chemicals did not meet the CMP criteria for further investigation, meaning these chemicals have not been assessed for potential risks to the public."

Leading up to the federal election next year, we are urging Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada as well as Thomas Mulcair and the New Democratic Party of Canada to commit to stopping fracking in Canada. We sent a letter to both party leaders today pointing to our Global Frackdown poll which found that 70 per cent of Canadians support "a national moratorium on fracking until it is scientifically proven to be safe."

Support for a moratorium cuts across party lines: nearly half of Conservative voters support a moratorium. The highest support for a moratorium came from NDP voters: 87 per cent of them support a national moratorium as do 78 per cent of Liberal voters. Currently, the Green Party is the only party calling for a national moratorium.

I wrote, "With the growing evidence that fracking poses too great a risk to climate, health and our lakes and rivers, communities everywhere are calling for a ban...Council of Canadians supporters are demanding that federal party leaders take decisive action on curbing climate change, keep drinking water, safeguarding public health and protecting local democracy leading up to the federal election next year and beyond."  We urged them to differentiate their parties by committing to stop fracking in Canadian and Indigenous communities.

You can read the letter to Justin Trudeau here and the letter to Thomas Mulcair here

Be sure to sign this petition to tell your Member of Parliament you want a ban on fracking in Canada and a just transition off of fossil fuels.

Photo: eggrole/flickr

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